DPP Home Gear Lighting Hi-Tech Studio: Monolights

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hi-Tech Studio: Monolights

As ideal lighting for studio or location photographers, monolights give you a great combination of power, control and portability

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Elinchrom D-Lite RX ONE; Dynalite MH2065V Flash Head

Today's pros use two main types of light in the studio: electronic flash and continuous "hot" lights.
Today's pros use two main types of light in the studio: electronic flash and continuous "hot" lights. Each offers its own benefits and drawbacks. Hot lights are a topic for another article; this time we'll look at flash systems.

Photoflex TritonFlash Lithium Strobe Kit
There are two basic types of studio flash systems: two-piece (consisting of a power pack and one or more flash heads) and monolight (in which the flash head and power pack are combined in one unit). The traditional separate power pack system generally offers more power and quicker recycling, and you can plug several flash heads in a single power pack. Monolights, being self-contained, are easier to position just about anywhere and to transport, and cost less. There are power-pack systems that can run on battery power, and many monolights offer this capability, so both types of systems can be taken into the field when necessary, but a monolight is more compact.

A monolight is lighter and takes up less space than a separate flash head and power pack. This monolight advantage lessens as the number of heads increases, however: Since each monolight contains both a flash head and power pack, the monolight weighs more than a pack-and-head system flash head alone. This is mainly a consideration when hanging the head on a boom.

With a pack-and-head system, the power pack plugs into the wall plug via a cord, and each head plugs into the power pack via a cord. This puts a lot of cords on the floor, stretching around the studio from the power pack to the wall outlet and from the power pack to each flash head. With a monolight, the unit plugs into the wall plug, and that's it. Each monolight can be plugged into the nearest wall plug, thus minimizing the cords-everywhere problem. But you need a socket for each monolight you want to use.

Paul C. Buff Einstein E640 Flash Unit
Of course, if your system—pack-and-heads or monolights—offers wireless control, then you just need one wall plug for either system. And if your system provides battery operation, you don't even need that.

If you do only headshots, you can work with a fairly low-powered flash head or system because the head(s) will be quite close to the subject. If you light large subjects or areas, you'll want a more powerful system. Flash heads are often rated in watt-seconds (w/s), or in joules in Europe, but watt-seconds aren't a measure of output; they're a measure of power. Current monolights range from under 200 w/s to over 1300 w/s. All other things being equal, two systems of equal power should produce equal output. But all other things aren't always equal—flash tube, cable, the nature of the capacitor, reflector and more enter the equation. A better indicator of flash power is estimated output (usually given as the aperture required at a specific distance, often 10 feet), when available. If you can try the system (in the store, or by renting it for a day, or via a friend who has it), you can determine this yourself with a flash meter.


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